With school, friends and extracurricular activities, teenagers have a lot on their plates, but Volunteer Airdrie’s LEAD program is helping teach youth the importance of leadership and community involvement.
LEAD, which stands for Leadership, Empowerment, Achieving a Difference, started in early 2017 after the organization realized Airdrie younger residents were looking for ways to become more involved.
“We talked to youth about how hard it was for them to be involved in the community and to be accepted in our city,” says Melanie Taylor, executive director of Volunteer Airdrie. “We all know the stigma of being a youth today; that they’re always on their phones and they’re all selfish, it’s all just about them – and it’s really not true.”
The LEAD program provides training both in class and through volunteering. In the 20 hours of classroom training, participants learn leadership, problem solving and communication skills.
“It is in a classroom, but it is not a classroom-style training,” “We really have them reflect and think; we talk about really tough subjects and there’s some emotion in the room.”
The students have a chance to listen to various speakers talk about their organizations and the important role of volunteers. At the end of the program, each student is required to give a one- to two-minute speech about their experiences.
In 2017, 45 students ages 12 to 18 completed four sessions of the LEAD program, contributing more than 900 volunteer hours. Though Taylor says many of the participants are ‘volun-told’ to come, by the end, they are always amazed at how much the program has impacted them.
Volunteer Airdrie chair Dave Maffitt says program graduates have shown dramatic improvements in conflict management, problem solving, planning and organizing.
Though LEAD participants are only required to do 20 hours of volunteering to graduate, he says many of the students continue to volunteer after they finish the program.
One 15-year-old LEAD graduate says: “It didn’t make sense to me why people volunteered because I didn’t understand why people work for free. But the volunteering I did opened my eyes and became the best part of the program.”
According to Volunteer Airdrie board member Dorothy May, LEAD youth have been involved with a variety of local community programs and events, such as Airdrie Food Bank, community beautification projects, Airdrie Festival of Lights, Genesis Place summer camps, AirdrieFEST, Unmask Mental Health, AIRscares and more.
LEAD students have been a huge help, says Carolyn Geertsen, volunteer co-ordinator with Airdrie Food Bank. “The kids did amazing. They are always a good group to have and very eager to help.”
The program’s future looks bright. “We now have a partnership agreement in place with RVS to use W.H. Croxford as our facility for the LEAD classroom sessions,” says Maffitt.
“There has been a lot of interest from people wanting to help as facilitators and we now have a pool of about 8-10 trained facilitators who volunteer their time over the 11-week-long program, including tagging along for many of the group volunteering practicum sessions.”
“In a time where it seems a lot of relationship are virtual, there is something magical in facilitating youth to engage in fun activities that involve socializing and problem solving through interactive activities,” adds May.
We asked one of the LEAD participants to share her experience with airdrielife:
Last spring, I had the opportunity to attend a new program called LEAD. The free program is designed to teach youth leadership and co-operative skills. It spans over two months, with weekly sessions for two hours, teaching teenagers to become our next community leaders. Classes focus on different things each time, with diversity and conflict management just to name a few.
The type of knowledge I learned about leadership is extremely useful to the average person to really help them stand out. After the first class, I thought what we would be taught were things like “how to make new friends” or “how to think of a good icebreaker.” What I got instead was so much more. I learned about leadership that I will be able to use in my future. When I arrived for the second class, I was surprised at how many people came back to the second session. This had really caught on. I thank the leaders for this as they made the sessions fun, relatable and educational.
There was also the volunteering component. Part of being able to graduate from the program was volunteering for 20 hours over the two months. What used to be a rare pastime has now turned into a fantastic hobby. Thanks to LEAD, my love of volunteering has come back up again.
Lastly, something that made my experience was the people. Meeting other kids from different schools was really cool. And now, we’re exchanging phone numbers and contacting each other on social media. These are people I thought I never would connect with, but now I have thanks to LEAD. This was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Thank you Volunteer Airdrie LEAD program leaders!
-Madeline Belle, age 14, Grade 8